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It’s almost time for asparagus

Spring is coming! The crocuses have faded and the daffodils and other spring bulbs are in full bloom.That means it is the time to check for asparagus coming up in the asparagus patch.

Starting at the beginning of April, a daily check of the patch is in order. Asparagus grows very quickly once it pokes through the ground. If you wait, you’ll miss the start of the harvest.

We usually spread a thick layer of compost on the patch every spring. However, this year we are omitting that step because the soil test we had done last spring showed the pH of the soil was in the optimum range but all other nutrients were in the range that exceeded the needs of the crop. Adding more nutrients is simply going to be a waste of materials.

It is important to keep the weeds out of the patch. Weeds can be pulled by hand using shallow digging. As an alternative on an established asparagus patch, a glyphosate herbicide can be used as long as there are no asparagus tips poking through the ground.

The asparagus should be picked as the spears get to be about 6 to 8 inches tall. They can be snapped off at the ground or cut above ground with a knife. Do not cut below the ground as you might injure other spears that you can’t see. Early in the season picking may only be every two to four days. As the temperatures rise, picking may need to be done once or twice a day! Asparagus needs to be picked before the tips begin to open.

Asparagus can be stored in the refrigerator if you chill the asparagus immediately after harvest and store it in sealable plastic bags. It should keep for one to two weeks. Asparagus also freezes easily. We wash, blanch the asparagus, chill it and freeze it on cookie trays. After it is frozen, we pop it off the tray and put it in sealed bags in the freezer. It is easy to get out the portions you need.

Once the spears become about pencil size, it is time to stop harvesting the asparagus. For the final picking, break or cut off all the spears. Now is the time to pull existing weeds or use a herbicide. Once you no longer cut the asparagus, the tips will open, and the asparagus stalks will develop fernlike tops. The canopy that the tops form will help to prevent weeds from growing.

The ferns should stay on the garden as long as they are green. They are providing nourishment to the roots so that you will have a good crop the following year. Once the ferns begin to turn yellow, it is time to prepare the bed for winter. There are two thoughts on removing the ferns before winter. One is to leave them in place to collect snow and protect the crowns. That is only reasonable if there were no diseases or insects. The other method is the one we employ. We cut the ferns and remove them from the patch. Then we mow the patch with the lawn mower.

If you don’t have an asparagus patch yet, local farm markets can provide you with fresh asparagus from their patches. A cup of asparagus is packed with lots of vitamins and minerals that you need in your daily diet. If you are thinking about growing asparagus, now is the time to order the roots for planting in mid-April to May when the soil is warmed to about 50 degrees. But establishing your own asparagus patch is the subject for another article.

In the meantime, take a moment to plan your patch at http://go.osu.edu/asparagus.

Greenisen is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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